The days of a state-caliber matchup between two teams playing in a regional championship game appear to be over.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association put together a new playoff structure for the 2019-20 season, doing away with sections within each classification and going with two sub-regions each in North, South, East, and West. Now, in most sports the top teams from Region 1 and Region 2 advance to the state quarterfinals, and the final eight teams will be seeded based on their regular-season winning percentage.
The higher seeded team will host the state quarterfinals, and the state semifinals are set to be held at neutral sites.
There won’t be any more true regional champions, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue with some of Carroll County’s fall coaches.
“Is it going to make things tougher? Yeah. But I like it,” said Liberty field hockey coach Brenda Strohmer, who guided the Lions to the 2A state title in 2018.
Liberty is in 1A West for 2019, along with Francis Scott Key, South Carroll, and Winters Mill. The Eagles are in Region 2 of 1A West, with Brunswick and Catoctin of Frederick County; Liberty, SC, and WM are the three teams in Region 1.
Staying with field hockey, Century and Manchester Valley are in Region 2 of 2A North. Baltimore County’s Lansdowne and Owings Mills join that duo in the sub-region. Westminster is in Region 1 of 3A East, with Howard County’s Centennial and Mount Hebron.
Strohmer pointed to the last two 1A West playoff scenarios, with Francis Scott Key and South Carroll taking each other out in succession before even playing a regional final. In 2017, Key made it to the 1A state final after clipping SC in penalty strokes during regionals. Last fall, the Cavaliers got revenge on the Eagles en route to winning the 1A crown.
Now, if FSK gets past either Brunswick or Catoctin, there’s a chance two Carroll teams could meet in the 1A state championship game.
“I like that, because [before] the two best teams [were] playing each other for the region,” Strohmer said. “And they should be playing each other in the state [final]. It’s not fair in some of these regions, they’re knocking each other out in the first or second round. You know, states are supposed to be the best two teams.”
In soccer, Century, Liberty, South Carroll, and Winters Mill are in 2A West’s Region 1 with Glenelg and Oakland Mills of Howard County. Man Valley and Westminster are in Region 1 of 3A East, along with Howard’s Marriotts Ridge and Mount Hebron. And Francis Scott Key sits in Region 2 of 1A West with Frederick’s Brunswick and Catoctin, and Washington County’s Clear Spring, Smithsburg, and Williamsport.
“It just gives you that hope, regardless of your seed,” said FSK boys soccer coach Larry Haines. “Maybe not even feel as much pressure to win that top seed, and that’s good thing because we all know how seasons go.”
Haines said battling against larger schools in Carroll County during the fall gives his team a chance to be tested come playoff time, but facing the top competition in 1A West is even more motivation to succeed.
“I’ve always said I felt like the best teams were in the West,” he said. “We were all battling each other for that one spot to go on and represent, and it’s possible now — which is the way it should be — the best teams in the state should be facing each other. Super excited for the opportunity to maybe face the best in the end, or at least be one of the best in the end.”
In volleyball, FSK joins Century, Liberty, South Carroll, and Winters Mill in Region 1 of 2A West, with Manchester Valley and Westminster in Region 1 of 3A East.
The MPSSAA earlier this year expanded its football playoffs from 16 to 32 teams in each region — teams are playing nine-game schedules in the regular season — and state quarterfinals begin after two rounds of regional play. Seeding will take place twice, once for the regional tournament and again for the three rounds of the state tourney.
The sub-regions keep geography in consideration when teams travel for the playoffs, but getting into the state quarterfinals is the reward for putting together a quality season.
“I don’t think it changes anything in regards to our plan throughout the season, and our preparation as coaches or players,” said Liberty boys soccer coach Dave Abarbanel. “I think it’s fairer. ... I don’t think you want your two strongest teams facing off in a quarterfinal. That’s really what it’s about."